MGA Direct Energizes Middle Georgia State’s Fully Online Degree Options

Author: Sheron Smith
Posted: Monday, April 27, 2020 12:00 AM
Categories: Faculty/Staff | Students | Pressroom | School of Arts and Letters | School of Health and Natural Sciences | School of Computing | School of Business | School of Education and Behavioral Sciences | School of Aviation

Macon, GA

MGA Direct students Christina McDaniel (M.A. Technical and Professional Writing) and Jarmez Eason (B.S. Information Technology).

When Christina McDaniel enrolled at Middle Georgia State University (MGA) in 2013, her love of literature drew her to the bachelor’s degree program in English.

The Warner Robins native and Houston County High School graduate said she enjoyed her studies, but a nagging thought lingered: what would she do with her degree?

“I didn’t want to teach but I wasn’t sure what other kinds of jobs might be out there for someone with an English degree,” said McDaniel, now 26. “One day, in my Spanish class, I was talking to another student about it, and she said, ‘Have you heard of technical writing?’”

McDaniel hadn’t, so she began researching. She learned that technical writers, as described by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “prepare instruction manuals, how-to guides, journal articles, and other supporting documents to communicate complex and technical information more easily.”

As she finished up her English degree in 2017, McDaniel began applying for technical writing jobs. She landed a position at Robins Air Force Base and now puts her English skills to good use proofing and editing technical manuals related to C-130 military transport aircraft.

McDaniel said she loves her work. With a goal of advancing in the field, she’s now enrolled in Middle Georgia State’s fully online Master of Arts in Technical and Professional Writing. Where her undergraduate degree mostly consisted of traditional classes, the online master’s program means McDaniel never has to go to an MGA campus.

“I actually prefer the online environment,” she said. “You can work from home in your pajamas if you want.”

The master’s degree in Technical and Professional Writing is one of 15 fully online programs housed under MGA Direct, the University’s newly branded fully online campus. While Middle Georgia State does offer other online programs, degrees that fall under the MGA Direct canopy are set apart by shorter sessions (most courses run for eight weeks, as opposed to the traditional 16-week semester) so students can make faster progress. Students also pay the same flat-rate tuition, regardless of their state – or country – of residence.

“MGA Direct is the result of a specific strategy to make potential students aware of the opportunities they have to pursue degrees completely online,” said Jennifer Stenander, Middle Georgia State’s Enrollment Management vice president. “Online degrees and courses are not new, of course, but MGA Direct brings all of them under one umbrella.

“This is not just for marketing purposes, although it is an effective way to market these programs. Consistency in packaging and delivery are hallmarks of MGA Direct programs so students can transition from one course to the next without having to learn new software or new classroom management systems. MGA Direct programs feature shorter sessions so that fully online students, many of whom work full-time, can make faster progress towards their degrees.”

Online Growth

In the U.S., the online degree market was once dominated by for-profit institutions. Their enrollments began to fall as many traditional public and private institutions expanded online offerings to compete for the growing numbers of non-traditional-college-age students – many of whom are already in the workforce – that prioritize convenience and cost over customary university experiences.

Middle Georgia State is part of that shift, with the percentage of students considered fully online growing significantly over the last four years. In fall 2015, just under 11 percent of the University’s students took all of their classes online. In fall 2019, it was 25.62 percent.

The number of fully online students is now greater than the number of students taking classes on each one of MGA’s traditional campuses except for Macon.

Meanwhile, overall enrollment at colleges and universities nationwide is declining because birthrates began to fall about 20 years ago, among other reasons. The University System of Georgia is bucking the trend for the time being with modest overall enrollment increases, and MGA is currently among the system’s growth leaders.

But Stenander said the University needs to prepare for ongoing demographic changes by effectively serving traditional students while at the same time marketing itself as an attractive option for online education.

“MGA is in a great position to succeed and expand,” she said. “The faculty have been very innovative in developing and delivering content. Right out of the gate our faculty and academic leaders identified fifteen degrees that fit the MGA Direct model, and that number will grow. With supportive faculty, effective and efficient delivery, and a tuition price point at the low end of the market, MGA Direct is destined to be a force in the online degree marketplace.”

A Disciplined Approach

Many of Middle Georgia State’s fully online students live outside the region and state (some live abroad), but area residents are a large segment of the market.

Like McDaniel, Jarmez Eason lives in the midstate but gravitated toward a fully online degree option at MGA because of work and family obligations. A business systems analyst for Navicent Heath, Eason works in Macon and lives in Centerville.

The Bachelor of Science in Information Technology he is pursuing through MGA Direct will be the 27-year-old Eason’s second undergraduate degree. He earned his first, a B.S. in Athletic Training, at Valdosta State University in 2015. Eason, a competitive weightlifter, worked in that field for a while but opted for a career change after moving back to the area to be with family.

“I’m mostly self-taught in IT, but I realized there’s still a lot of things I need to learn,” said Eason, a Mount de Sales Academy graduate. “I considered online programs at some other schools in other states, but I chose Middle Georgia State for a couple of reasons. If I do ever need to go to campus for something I can because I live here. The price point was a definite plus, and the IT faculty at Middle Georgia State made it clear that the online program is just as good as (on-campus) classes.”

Eason doubts he could take a traditional on-campus class even if he wanted to. On many days, working full-time, coaching CrossFit, and competing in weightlifting keep him away from home from early morning to late night.

“What I’ve learned to do is take advantage of any down time I might have,” he said. “Whenever I have 30 minutes here or there, I pull out my tablet and work on class projects.”

Eason expects to finish the degree in summer 2021. He’s considering moving his career toward the cybersecurity aspect of IT.

“My ultimate goal is just to keep growing, and this degree is part of that,” he said. “I want to be the best person I can be, and that includes my career.”

This article was originally published in the spring 2020 issue of MGA Today.